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Data, data, data. Arrrrggghghh!

November 30, 2010

As Ted mentioned in his most recent post “Hard At Work, or an Update on the State of RoastLog” we are indeed hard at work on a number of things, including a 4-channel data bridge.

Many, many roasters have expressed a desire for multiple inputs when data logging. In some cases we’ve heard it’s an absolute necessity – they wouldn’t even consider signing up for RoastLog without being able to log from multiple inputs. That’s all fine and understandable, but now there’s a whole heck of a lot more data to deal with. My primary task is user interface/user experience/interaction design, so it falls to me to figure out how to display all this data in a way that’s useful.

The obvious choice is just to plot all inputs at once on the same chart, but that presents a number of problems:

  1. Which input is which? Using a color code would work. Sorry if anyone is color blind or has a computer monitor calibrated in a way that makes the colors hard to differentiate. Line weights or styles? Those options are not necessarily any better. Doing things this way also means maybe having to take up screen real estate with a legend, so people can learn, “Red is ambient temp, blue is bean mass,” etc. It gets worse if you consider sharing roast profiles. What if blue is bean mass for one person and exhaust temp for another? That would make comparing profiles really annoying.
  2. What about the chart scale? If plotting ambient temperature, bean mass temperature and exhaust temp that means scaling the chart to cover a much broader range of temperatures than the range typically covered during a roast, which means the actual roast profile will appear smaller.
  3. Ok fine. Let’s do four separate charts all logging at the same time. Well, that’s not that great because most of the time during a roast an operator is likely to really care about just one data plot. So, four plots, but one of them is larger than the other three, and it’s easy to select which one is most prominent? Maybe.
  4. And that’s just the Roastlogger application! What about the web site? With the potential of four data plots for each roast, how should we display that information when reviewing roast profiles? When cupping and comparing to a profile what do you want to see? My expectation is that it will vary, but that everything all at once is just a bit much. So, do we need to create a bunch of switches in the UI, so that things can be turned on and off? Maybe.

More data is a mixed blessing. It’s so easy to collect data. It’s typically much, much harder to make sense or use of the data that’s been collected. Instinct tells me that just throwing up all the data we have in the most obvious way is very likely not the best way to do things.

What do you think? See that comment field down yonder? Now would be a good time to use it. We’re building this for you. Tell me what you want to see. Even better, post your thoughts in the Multi-TC Inputs section on Get Satisfaction.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. paul rader permalink
    December 2, 2010 8:26 am

    i would hope people already know which data matter most to them and why. so if you make everything available, you can allow people select what to display in their UI. that way no one is overwhelmed by extraneous data, but it is all still available if you need it.

    Like

    • Ryan Brown permalink
      December 2, 2010 9:19 am

      Thanks for the comment Paul. You are correct, of course. The challenge in going that route is that flexibility often leads to complexity in the UI. To use an extreme example, MS Word provides six different views of a document. Presumably, people know how they want to view their document and will make a selection accordingly. The cost is more stuff in the UI and the risk that some people don’t understand the choices and aren’t sure which view they want. Of course, there are millions of people using Word for many different things, and RoastLog is built for a very specific purpose and kind of unlikely to reach millions of people ;-). Still, I think you are correct, and the goal will be to create a flexible UI that is neither confusing nor laden with options and also requires minimal interaction from the user. Many roasters have told us they really don’t like having to mess with a typing and mousing around in the middle of a roast.

      Like

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